Feb 9, 2024

The Hardest, Most Frustrating Thing I've Learned From College Counseling

I've been on the college counseling journey for a while now, and the most frustrating thing about the profession is this: You'll never know why a student was not admitted.

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This can be a hard and confusing time of year for high school seniors and their parents: Peers who you know have a lower GPA and weren't as involved at school get into a school that waitlisted you. A friend's child who seemed as competitive a candidate as your child but not more so gets in at schools that don't admit your child. A friend who gets into an Ivy League school gets waitlisted at a state school. Friends with better GPAs than yours don't get into the school you get into (who are you going to room with?!). Your younger child doesn't even get admitted to the school that offered your older child a full scholarship - even though they went to the same high school, got the same grades and ACT scores, and had similar activities.

All of these scenarios are drawn from my real life experiences. And there's no explaining these decisions, because you can't track down the specific admissions officers who made them and demand answers. (As appealing as that thought may be.)

There are so many possible reasons for the decisions, particularly at schools that use a holistic review process that includes not just a student's academic record but also essays and/or letters of recommendation. It could come down to a student's essay being compelling, or students selecting a major that's super competitive or not competitive at all. Maybe a college is protecting its yield (the percentage of students admitted who commit to attend), prioritizing geographic diversity, or needs a whole lot of violinists.

I'm not the only person who wishes the process were more transparent. In fact, Jeffrey Selingo, who writes about education for the New York Times, suggests in his book Who Gets In and Why* that college admissions should move to a matching system so students are paired with the school that fits them best. He doesn't offer a lot of practical ideas on how such a system could be implemented, and I don't think it's realistic, but it has made me wonder why the admissions process isn't more transparent.

A friend reached out to me over winter break, after her daughter had gotten decisions from multiple colleges that she'd applied to via early action. My advice was:

You'll never know why the admissions committee decided the way they did, and it's not worth trying to get in their heads. The best thing you can do is focus on where your daughter has gotten in and not where she hasn't, and on making sure she feels good about the options she already has.

And so here is the most important advice I can offer: Make sure you and even more important your child feels excited about all of the schools that they're applying to. That way, every school they get into - whether it's one or twenty - will be a good fit.

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